I started reading McDowell’s Mind and World few days ago.
From what I understood so far (I’m near the end of lecture two) McDowell’s contrasts two views:
1.The idea that there is something given to us through our receptivity, something which serves as a constraint on possible conceptualizations of what we are experiencing, and further as a ground for empirical judgments. It is a way to make sense of how judging and thinking can have bearing on the reality.
2.Conherentist idea – that there is no such thing as Given which serves as a rational constraint to our thinking and judgments. The thought is not rationally constrained through experience, but only causally influenced. In such view nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except other belief.
McDowell finds both views unsatisfactory, so his solution is that our experience is already conceptualized – that it represents things in the world as being thus and so. In that way he says we get the external rational constraint to our thinking (something which is required for the thought to have bearing on reality, and make sense of the apparent fact that there IS something in our experience which we can’t change as much our judgments or thinking changes), while avoiding the problems for which Given was rejected (like the problem that space of reasons can’t extend into nonconceptual Given – the Given would fall into the realm of pure sensibility, which can’t be connected to the normative nature of judgments).
I guess I don’t find this solution very interesting, as my beliefs kind of go in somewhat parallel direction.
First, I think it includes “experience” in philosophers’ sense, which I take to be just a myth. As I said before, instead of reifying experience as something that represents the state of affairs in the world, and which has some what-it-is-likeness to it, we should accept the everyday sense of the world ‘experience’, where it refers to events in the world in which we participate, and in which events we are somehow affected or from which we learn something, or in alternative sense where ‘experience’ refers to the knowledge gained in that way. When talking about our relation with the world we simply then change the talk from discussions of “experience” to discussion of seeing,hearing, and perceiving in general. The acts themselves are events in the world, which relate the things in the world to ourselves.
In such view, of course there is no reason to discuss any such thing as ‘conceptualization of experience’, as what is “external rational constraint” to our thinking is not any kind of experience, but the world itself – or what we perceive of it.
If one keeps on his mind the physical description, or neurochemical description of what we know is going on whenever we see, (hear, smell, etc…) something, this might seem as avoiding the problem. How does this solve the problem of the relating the normative aspect of the judgment to this scientific description?
The trick is here to think of those acts (seeing, hearing, etc…) not in terms of the physical, neurochemical or some other such scientific description, but in the way we are aware of them, and see the physical and neuro-chemical description of event only as a description of an aspect of whatever is going on. Of course this requires certain metaphysical view – it requires the view that the world in general is not reducible to those aspects, and further related to it – the epistemic view that through our perception we can be aware of those things in the world, even they are not reducible to those aspects. In such way all those things of which we can become aware, including our ability to become aware, language and so on, ARE genuine phenomena in the world, unrelated to our awareness of them, even as phenomena they are not reducible to the physical description. (If you are interested in more thoughts on relation between concepts, what we see and what-it-is-likeness here)
If this is still hard to understand, it is probably because someone might think that I’m saying something more complicated than what I’m really am – This is nothing but the everyday common-sense view of the world.
So, in that way, the “external rational justification” is the world, or at least whatever we perceive of it. There is no “experience” which is “already conceptualized”, there is the world and its aspects to which we can put our attention (or alternatively which can attract our attention). This ability to abstract, to put attention on aspects, is what is ground of our awareness of different phenomena of which we can further think, which we can name and talk about.